Gail: After being royalty published for so many books, why indie now?
Brandilyn: When I first began to be published in fiction in 2001, I was writing in both the suspense and women’s fiction genres. After a three-book women’s fiction series—the Bradleyville series—I turned to writing suspense full time. But I always had a hankering to return to women’s fiction. I love exploring relationships, especially those of family in small towns. In fact I had the idea for the Dearing Family series way back when I wrote in both genres, and the books were contracted with my publisher. When the publisher’s marketing team and I decided I should write only suspense, the Dearing Family books were set aside. Now that today’s technology is making self-publishing so easy, I decided to finally write this series. The first book is That Dog Won't Hunt.
After That Dog Won't Hunt released, I heard from my traditional publisher that they were canceling their fiction line and its contracts. Suddenly I was free of a contract for the first time in 13 years. I'd been thinking and studying about self-publishing for some time. I took the unexpected opportunity to take the plunge into self-publishing completely. I told my wonderful agent to tell the other houses that were calling about acquiring me to say a humble thanks but no thanks—I'm taking this other route for now. I have made a writing schedule for myself, with deadlines and release dates. I will continue writing the Dearing Family series, releasing its books in between my Seatbelt Suspense® novels. My last trad-pubbed book, Dark Justice, will release in October. After that all my releases will be self-pubbed.
Gail: What's involved in getting a book to the point of having a respectable quality for sale on Amazon?
Brandilyn: I certainly had a lot to learn regarding the formatting, doing a book cover, etc. With my background in marketing, I've always written my own back cover copy and played a big part in choosing my covers for my trad-pubbed books. So I felt able to do my own book cover (this saved me about $300). I was able to get my name font from my publisher, so that was a big help. I went to istock photo to find the perfect picture of the family dog for the cover.
The networking among self-publishers is fantastic. I found a great guy who did my ebook formatting for a very reasonable price. (Steven Booth at http://geniusbookcompany.com.) As far as the interior formatting, I used Createspace for the paperback version, and they help you through formatting. Steven Booth will do the interior for ebooks.
Regarding the actual writing of That Dog Won't Hunt, I relied on the experience I've gained through writing over 25 books. I used some early readers to help point out any weaknesses in my story. I hired a copyeditor to find any inconsistencies and to proofread. I let the book sit for awhile after writing it so I could read it again later with "fresh eyes" that would help me see any weaknesses.
All in all, the end result is—I'm happy with the way That Dog Won't Hunt looks and reads.
Gail: I know it's an unanswerable question, but I'm sure many people out there are wondering how much money can be made by the average writer with an Indie book?
Brandilyn: In a way it is unanswerable. However, we can look at traditional publishing vs. self-publishing to understand the differences in how an author makes money. Hang with me, as this takes a bit of explanation.
Let's say an author makes a $25,000 advance on a book. He/she is paid half when signing the contract and the second half when the manuscript is turned in. (Some publishers split the payments into three.) When the manuscript is done, the author has made 85% of that $25K (15% going to an agent) = $21,250. Nice bit of change. However:
Year 1: Manuscript sits at publisher waiting to be published. (Yes, this takes an entire year.)
Year 2: Manuscript is released and has first year of sales (in which most sales will occur).
Let's says the book takes three years to earn out the advance. That encompasses Years 2 through 4. Then most publishers report every 6 months, and they'll take 2-3 months after the reporting period is over to send royalty statements and write checks. Which means you wait another 9 months after earning out to see any of that money. When you add all the years up, it's almost 5 years. $21,250 divided by 5 = $4,250/year. After that you'll receive royalties, but the book will be backlist and won't sell much (unless you have a huge hit to push your backlist). Whatever royalties you receive will have 15% taken off the top for your agent. So perhaps every year after that you will earn, say $700 for the book. Which means years 6-15 would total $7000. So altogether, in 15 years you would earn $28,250 on that book, or $1883/year.
Most of the sales for a traditionally published book occur in the first 6 months after release. Someone earning a $25K advance might see first year sales of 17K-20K. The majority of sales will be print. This is the one thing traditional publishers still have—distribution of print books into stores. But after 6 months the returns begin, and paper sales can go backward (more books returned than sold). After that, at least in my experience, paper sales will fall way off and ebook sales become the majority from then on. These are sold online, so paper distribution is no longer necessary. (Besides, print books are off the shelves by then anyway.)
Sales of a self-pub are completely different. There is no huge push of sales at the beginning, followed by returns. That scenario exists to stock brick and mortar shelves. But a self-pub is stocking online shelves, which never have to be emptied and refilled. Sales of a self-pub start very slowly compared to trad-pubbed. Maybe a couple hundred per month at first vs. thousands of print books. If you looked at just the first year, you'd think self-pubbing is crazy. But you have to think longterm. As a trad-pub's sales are dwindling, the self-pub's can just be getting started and have years to grow. If you sell a full-length novel on Amazon for $3.99, you'll make 70% (minus a small digital fee for sending), or about $2.70 per book. At that royalty rate, you have to sell only 697 copies of your book a year to break even with a trad-pubbed book for the first 15 years. ($1883 divided by $2.70.) Plus you get paid every month. And you can check your sales daily to see what marketing has worked. With trad-pubs there's no way to see in adequate time what marketing works and what doesn't, because by the time you get your numbers, they're outdated.
The above scenario is the same for any level of writer. If you'd make a $10K advance, then run the numbers accordingly. Obviously you'll have to sell far less self-pubs a year. On the other hand, if your advance is $10K, your readership is less than that of an author who receives $25K. So your self-pub sales may be less as well.
Even with these numbers, self-pubbing isn't for everyone. Some authors don't have the entrepreneurial spirit it takes to be their own publisher and marketer. Others live from advance to advance and can't afford to forego that next advance for a slow ramp-up in self-pub sales. If you go self-pub, it's like opening your own business. There's a lot to learn. And you must be able to discipline yourself to write—without a trad-publisher's deadline.
Gail: Thank you Brandilyn Collins!
Brandilyn's latest novel, That Dog Won't Hunt,
is available online in paperback ($9.62) and ebook ($2.99).